Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The True Story of the EBies

Laurie Kerr
Senior Policy Advisor
NYC Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability

Several years ago, a group of us Urban Greeners were chatting about how to scale up energy efficiency in existing buildings – as we so often do for fun. Someone sighed and said for the umpteenth time, “The problem is, correcting operating schedules and insulating steam pipes just isn’t as sexy as installing solar panels or bamboo flooring…” At which point I thought, “Sexiness is in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? Fashions change. We need to make efficiency and existing buildings sexy, even glamorous!” And with that, the idea for the EBies was born.

Clearly we had a problem. The things that really work were considered tedious and drab, while flashier, expensive strategies with minimal impact were getting all of the attention. We needed to invert the value system, and make the inspired building operator, the clever retro-commissioner, and the brilliant auditor visible and glamorous. An awards program made sense, but in those pre-EBie days, the accolades tended to be given to architects who had designed dazzling new green buildings. The engineers, landscape architects, and lighting designers who were part of the design team were mentioned in a hurried mumble as the architects waltzed away with the award – despite the fact that most successful projects are really collaborations. And existing buildings weren’t even on the radar.

A great example of an industry that has tackled this issue is the motion picture business. The Academy Awards don’t just reward the actors and actresses with an Oscar; they recognize the best cinematography, the best sound mixing, the best makeup, and a host of other specialties that are required to make a great movie. Over the decades, the Oscars have honored and built up depth in all of the supporting professions, which has undoubtedly contributed to the strength of the American movie industry over the 80-some years since the awards were introduced.

The Oscars have been so successful, in fact, that they have spawned the Grammys, the Tonys, the Emmys, and even the Obies – the awards for Off-Broadway shows. Now it’s time for the EBies, Urban Green Council’s awards for the best work on Existing Buildings. Like the Oscars, the EBies will recognize the range of expertise required to make a high performance existing building. There’s a category that recognizes the best building operator, another that recognizes the building owner that initiated and funded the most low-energy renovation, and others that reward specific categories of building improvements, like best lighting retrofit and best water improvement strategy. So, we promise you…the EBie will be a green building award that is inclusive and recognizes all the right people. And they will have a glamour all their own!

This entry is cross-posted from the Urban Green Council Blog

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